The Dutchman's exclusion from the squad to face Fenerbahce shows that things are only getting worse for a player once prematurely compared to a club icon
“I find it understandable that people can be reminded of Cristiano Ronaldo by Memphis,” said former PSV youth coach Mart van Duren after working with Memphis Depay. “Well, I believe he is going to get close.”
It was comments such as this which helped to raise the player’s profile to such an extent that when he arrive at Manchester United as a £22.3 million signing in the summer of 2015 Depay was asked what he made of the extensive comparisons with CR7.
“I don’t want to say I can be like somebody like that, but I think I can excite the fans,” he told reporters on that warm July day. “It’s not easy, of course. I have trained three times this week, and I already feel the difference from playing in the Dutch league.”
But almost 18 months on, he continues to feel it. And after the initial wave of hysteria which greeted his signing and his being handed Ronaldo’s old No.7 shirt, Depay lurks increasingly closer towards the exit door. His exclusion from the trip to Fenerbahce this week – a clash which under normal circumstances would be made for a player with a point to prove – shows that his United career only appears to be going further and further down the drain.
Having been given a long leash by Louis van Gaal during his first couple of months at the club, Depay struggled to justify the continued faith of his compatriot and soon found himself in and out of the United first XI. Come FA Cup final day in May, he was out of the squad altogether.
Things appeared as though they may improve under Jose Mourinho after the Portuguese made a point of stating that he believed he could get the best out of Depay. But three months into this campaign, the Dutchman has started a single League Cup game against Northampton in which he was utterly anonymous, and now has been left out of the journey to Turkey for United’s latest Europa League clash after coming up short in training.
With Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and even Ashley Young having all been chosen ahead of Depay as an outside forward at various stages this season the game is clearly up. When he sauntered into Old Trafford with his cocky strut in July 2015, there was simply no telling that his stock could have fallen quite so low anywhere near this quickly.
His predecessor in the No.7 jersey, Angel di Maria, had struggled to come to terms with life in England and had soon flown the nest, but Depay seemed to have enough about him to make at least a moderate success of his spell in Manchester. With 28 goals at PSV in 2014-15 behind him and a cacophony of great reviews ringing in his ears, he should have been a hit in M16 even if he got nowhere near the levels attained by Ronaldo in his six years as a red.
But now he is Mourinho’s sixth-choice winger and finds himself on the outside looking in because of his poor attitude to training at a time when he should be busting a gut to prove his worth. He knows his chances to show what he has got a running out, with a January deadline set on United’s attempts to turn Depay into a player they can get something out of.
Yet here he is, in his second autumn as a Manchester United with bleaker prospects than at any time since he skipped through the door. Some have pointed the finger at his lavish apartment, his outrageous dress sense or his flash cars as proof that he isn’t cut from United cloth, but all the evidence needed has been delivered on the pitch over the last 16 months.
The comparisons with Ronaldo may well have been misplaced, but they are spoken of no more. A player who is his homeland was a superstar has quickly become an outsider in the Premier League and there seems little way back for him.
But maybe that’s a good thing for the man himself. The bright lights and the big city have not worked for him in a football sense, and but for fleeting glimpses against Club Brugge and Watford in his early days as a United player he simply hasn’t seemed up to the job.
He can’t be enjoying the experience of alternating between the substitutes’ bench and the stands from week to week, and so a January move might well be the best outcome for Depay as well as the club.
When Ronaldo left United he did so for a world-record fee and readied himself for one of the most phenomenal stretches of individual brilliance the game has ever witnessed, and all fuelled by an insatiable appetite to be the best. It was always wrong for Depay to be held in the same regard, and his increasingly-inevitable Old Trafford exit can only serve to underline that.